Global Health Startup Founder In Cycle of Success For Women Worldwide
It’s not about the bike.
Though that’s a phrase Lance Armstrong used for the title of his 2001 memoir of cycling and life, for the company Leslie Heyer founded in 2002, it was at first but now isn’t at all about the bike.
Heyer named her Washington, D.C.- based consulting firm Cycle Technologies because she was a cyclist racing about 100 miles per week and doing road races, often training 70 miles a day.
But one research group client turned into the focus of the global health family planning initiative she founded with two other partners, says Heyer who is president and founder of the company.
Cycle Technologies deals with the cycle of family planning for women in 60 countries and is committed to addressing the fertility and contraceptive choices of 214 million women around the world who have an “unmet need for contraception” according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Heyer says she figured even though the company was named after a different cycle, that this focus on women’s cycles was kismet.
Cycle Technologies partners with global health organizations including Institute for Reproductive Health, Georgetown University, United Nations Populations Fund, World Health Organization, Population Services International, Pathfinder International, Management Sciences for Health, John Snow, Inc., International Planned Parenthood Federation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and California Family Health Council.
With the mission to address the global unmet family planning needs of women everywhere, Cycle Technologies offers effective, low cost methods of contraception works, can meet the needs of women all over the world can be used in a wide variety of contexts using a range of tools – from smartphones to beads – depending on the method and the need.
“Women and girls face many barriers to sexual health and reproductive rights: discrimination, stigma, restrictive laws and policies, and entrenched traditional practices. Progress remains slow despite the evidence that these rights can have a transformative effect, not only on individual women, but on families, communities, and national economies. In order to drive equality, we all must commit — fully and actively — to the sexual health and reproductive rights of women and girls,” according to the Global Fun For Women.
At the recent Family Planning Summit in London, Heyer says Cycle Technologies pledged to provide free family planning solutions to 10 million women by 2020.
“Unplanned pregnancies are a preventable source of poverty and suffering for women, children, and families,” says Heyer.
After earning her MBA at Harvard University in 2000, Heyer says she worked in marketing at a software startup and was involved in business development. She then worked in marketing and advertising for other startups, before launching her own company in 2002.
The Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown was the client that needed to bring a new contraceptive device to market, a color-coed string of beads connected to a woman’s cycle of fertility.
“It required a leap of faith,” Heyer says.
What began as a six-month project for the research firm “evolved from there”Heyer says.
Even the products have life cycles, she says.
Access to family planning tools is “a human health issue,” Heyer says, “but its also fundamental to women’s leadership and empowerment.”
Herself a mother of two small children, Heyer says, “When women have control over their reproductive health, it gives them great opportunity and strength.”
Another factor, she explains, “is when you have women in leadership, then women’s health becomes a priority.”
Working in global health is interesting when viewed from a gender lens, Heyer says. There are women attending global health conferences at the mid-level, “but when you look at who is presenting, panels are 25 to 50 percent men and the audience is 95 percent women.”
Recently “Stanford Global Health hosted the inaugural Women Leaders in Global Health conference for more than 400 leaders from 68 countries and 250 organizations to discuss how to achieve gender equity in global health leadership,” according to Rachel Leslie writing in Stanford’s Scope Blog.
“2017 has been marked by a growing global movement advocating for policies to advance gender equity and human rights,” writes Leslie.
The issues are critical across the world, and also in the U.S., write Shilpa Phadke, Jamila Taylor, and Nikita Mhatre in American Progress. “One in three women ages 18 to 44 say that they could not pay more than $10 per month for birth control if they had to buy it today. Contraceptives made up an estimated 30 percent to 44 percent of all out-of-pocket health care spending for women.”
With the reach of her startup continuing to expand, Heyer offers specific advice for anyone looking to do a health startup or is contemplating a startup in any industry.
Immerse yourself. “Understand the issue and business inside and out, and go to where the challenges are. Do not assume what others tell you at the higher level is the only or best solution.”
Have real confidence. Once you have an idea, know that you have to step up and have a strong voice.
Take care of yourself. Do not beat yourself up or blame yourself for challenges.
Though Heyer is no longer racing, she does century rides and shorter distances, after a bad cycling accident in 2013, and she fully recovered.
“It takes a lot of energy to race when you have kids,” Heyer says. “You have to change your priorities.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com